My Small Business Tech Stack
The hardware and software you choose to power your business tech stack are a big deal. Choose right, and you're set up for future growth and expansion and scalability. Choose wrong, and, at best, you're out a bit of money and a few weeks of time and energy. At worst, you're out thousands of dollars, and it takes a year for you to get back on track.
Want to listen? There's an audio version below
What is a Small Business Tech Stack?
According to Wikipedia, a tech stack is:
“A set of software subsystems or components needed to create a complete platform such that no additional software is needed to support applications. Applications are said to “run on” or “run on top of” the resulting platform.” Source – Solution stack
In plain English:
My small business tech stack is all of the hardware and software that I use to make my online businesses operate smoothly, function properly, and connect from anywhere, so that I can create content, meet with and serve clients, and check in on operations from anywhere.
To say it yet another way, my tech stack is the software I click and the hardware I hold that enables me to manage and grow my business from wherever I am.
Why a Tech Stack is Important
I get it; you're not very technical. Most of my clients aren't, so you're in good company.
However, over the past 48 hours, the topic of tech has come up over lunch, during a mastermind chat via Facebook Messenger, and then again while on the phone with a mastermind hopeful. The fact is technology powers almost everything we use, from basic websites to powerful mobile apps. And, the more you understand it and how the tech you use enables your business, the better you can utilize it.
In a recent post about the software that enables me to run my business from anywhere, I talked about the tools I use to power my business. But I didn't go into much detail about the hardware I use, the servers the software sits on, or the items in my office that I use daily.
Or how it all fits together.
So that's what I'm going to do today.
This post is all about the tech stack that powers my small business and enables me to blog, podcast, build and host websites, and coach my clients from anywhere I have an internet connection.
And, if I've done my job right, when you reach the end, you'll know how it all fits together and how it helps me deliver a consistent experience to my readers, listeners, and clients who live and work in countries around the globe.
Let's dive in.
The Tech Stack that Powers My Small Business
Before I dive too deep into the world of hardware and software, let me share the four pillars of my tech stack.
These pillars are the four things that I build everything else on and around. If a new piece of hardware catches my eye, or if a new app recommendation comes across my desk, these are the four fundamental areas that new item must face before it ever makes it into the conversation.
The 4 Foundational Pillars of My Tech Stack
Whereas the hardware and software sections are in alphabetical order, these are listed in order of importance.
If “it” doesn't work with or integrate into WordPress, “it” doesn't get invited into the tech stack. WordPress powers all of my online businesses and drives all of the websites I own or manage. I don't mess with Joomla; I don't touch Drupal. If it's not WordPress, I don’t use it.
I almost prioritized Windows above WordPress, but I didn't. Here's why. I access my WordPress sites from my phone, my tablet, and even my Chromebook. And, if I ever decided a MacBook Pro was worth my time or money, I could manage my online business from there as well.
However, there are several other applications in my tech stack that are powered by Windows.
After checking to see if the software works with WordPress and Windows, every piece of software I use must also integrate with ActiveCampaign. This is the email software I use to track subscriber activities, measure engagement, and communicate with my audience.
As ActiveCampaign becomes even more popular, as it has over the past eighteen months, more and more software integrates directly with this tool. Plugins like Thrive Quiz Builder and the web app ThriveCart integrate so deeply with ActiveCampaign that I’m amazed by what I can do when they're all used together.
The final pillar is Android. Almost everything I use has a mobile companion app or is accessible via my phone and/or tablet.
When I looked at switching from Evernote to OneNote a few months ago, one of the first things I looked at was whether or not I could access my notes from my phone. And, on top of that, when Evernote restricted my access to two devices (phone, tablet, computer), that was the final straw.
Any app that wants to earn a spot in my small business tech stack has to be accessible via my Android-powered smartphone.
Tech Stack: Hardware
While you could use almost any hardware in your business, I wouldn't. I'd use what I recommend here.
Simply put, I buy the best. I love researching and testing new tools and gadgets. I do my homework, and then I buy the best – even if it means I have to save up for it or wait a little while longer.
Here is a list of the hardware in my tech stack, and then a brief explanation about why I use it and how it integrates with everything else.
Audio-Technica ATR2100 – This is the microphone I use to record episodes for The Ellory Wells Show and to do voiceovers for training videos. I also use this microphone for high-quality audio on the go and for most of my mastermind and coaching calls which I host through Zoom (see below). In fact, I own 4 or 5 of these microphones to use as backups.
Canon 80D – This DSLR camera is the absolute best you can get without getting into the full-frame, professional, end of the spectrum. You can read my review of the Canon 80D here. Though it's a little bit heavy, it's great for vlogging, taking behind the scenes photos and videos, and for the occasional birthday party. Though I don't use the included Canon software, I do import the videos and edit them via Camtasia (see below).
Dell XPS 15 – This is the control center of my business. Without it, I'm seriously handicapped. And, because my computer is essentially a mission-critical item, I bought the best I could get. For the technical folks (or people in the market for a new system) here are the basic specs: Quad-core i7, 16GB memory, 512 GB SSD, 1080 screen (non-touch), USB 3.0, 802.11ac wireless with a Gigabit NIC, and GTX 960M graphics card. I also got the bigger battery. A new system with comparable specifications should run you about $2000.
Docking Station – Whenever I see people looking at the tiny screens of their computer while sitting at their desk, I just shake my head. A docking station like this one plugs into a single port on the side of my computer, and not only charges my laptop's battery, but it powers two 1080p monitors, my webcam, and microphone. And, it sends crystal clear audio to my in-office sound system. If you're not using a docking station in your office, you're running your business with a major flat tire.
Dual 27″ LED Monitors – Pretty straightforward here; dual monitors increases productivity by, like, approximately, a bajillion percent. I work on one and keep messages on the other. Or, I'll pull up a website on one screen while making changes on the other. And in case you were wondering, no, I haven't upgraded my monitors to 4k yet.
GoPro HERO 5 – While not as useful as the Canon 80D, the GoPro is still a workhorse. I had to buy a LOT of accessories for the little thing, but it is a great action cam. If I were out and about more, instead of working 95% from my home office (or if I vlogged more), I'd use the GoPro more. You can read my review of the GoPro HERO 5 here.
GreenGeeks – This web hosting company owns the servers that most of my websites sit on. They've got SSDs, great support, and great uptime (meaning your sites don't go down very often). For sites with less than 1000 visitors a month, GreenGeeks shared hosting is perfect.
Home NAS – NAS stands for “network attached storage.” While it's not technically a server, it's still a powerful bit of hardware that stores and backs up all of my files. I have an enclosure or shell with two 2TB hard drives configured in a RAID0 for security. If you want a NAS for yourself (highly recommended) and if you're not technical, I'd suggest you just buy one of these. Every week I back up my entire computer to my NAS using FileZilla (see below). And whenever I get a new computer or need something I've archived, the file is there, safe, secure, and stored in my closet.
Logitech C920 – Over the past few years, webcam technology hasn't really changed. So my five-year-old Logitech C920 still works great. And again, I use this webcam for every coaching and mastermind call.
Logitech K780 – A small thing, but your keyboard is your interface with the world. Get a good one. I always get one with the keypad. I've been using Logitech products for 20 years, and they've never let me down. Plus, the K780 and my mouse (see below) are both Bluetooth, so there's no dongle sticking out of the side of my computer. The K780 also works with my phone, and I can switch devices with the push of a button.
Logitech MX Master 2S Black – Like a good keyboard, a good mouse is how you resize images, drag and drop elements on your website, and interact with the online world. I've had four generations of the MX line, and they're always the most ergonomic and comfortable to use. Amazon usually has the best price on these.
Polk PSW10 Subwoofer – I listen to music all the time, and my Polk speakers perform amazingly. This subwoofer pairs well with the two bookshelf speakers (see below) I have sitting on my desk.
Polk T15 Bookshelf Speakers – If you're going to host a podcast, you need good speakers. Audio quality is also (if not more so) critical to creating good videos. If you can't hear the mistakes and audio artifacts, you can't edit them out.
Samsung Galaxy S8+ – As I mentioned above, I use Android for every mobile device I have except for my laptop (see below) and the Chromebook I use occasionally. Get the best and fastest phone you can afford; I mean, what other device is in your pocket or your hand from the time you wake up until you put your head on the pillow at night? And, my phone is how I communicate with my clients, and, sometimes, how I interact with my websites.
Sony STR 995 Receiver – I output audio from my docking station to this older receiver, and from there, output to my subwoofer and two bookshelf speakers.
WPEngine – I host most of my websites, the ones with less traffic, on GreenGeeks, but ellorywells.com sits on servers powerful servers from WPEngine. You can read why I switched to WPEngine here. If your business relies on a website, that website needs to be on quality servers.
When it comes to the hardware in your tech stack, don't buy the cheapest things on the market. These tools are like the tools you'd find in a mechanics garage. The need to be kept clean, organized and in good condition, and you'll likely use each of them in ways you'd never expected and which go beyond the reason you purchased them for. Buy the best, and you won't have to update every year.
Tech Stack: Software
While the hardware might seem expensive, the software is even more so. I might spend $2000 on a laptop, but I spend $2000 per year on software.
Here's how it all breaks down.
ActiveCampaign – As I mentioned at the top of this post, almost every online tool I have integrates with ActiveCampaign. Using this software, I can track what people look at on my site, trigger emails based on opens or clicks, and even add notes to the accounts of people I speak with who are interested in working with me. My ActiveCampaign account is full of valuable information I've collected on people over the last few years.
Audacity – This free software is what I use to edit all of the audio in my podcasts, plus the audio from videos. I like Camtasia, but Audacity does a better job of cleaning up audio.
Box – Dropbox sucks; use Box instead. Box has a great UI and is easy to use. I install the Box desktop app on all of my computers and backup all of my files to Box's cloud. I also use Box to host all of my downloadable resources that I send my clients and subscribers. If you've opted in for any of my free downloads, I sent you a link to access the file via my Box cloud account instead of storing those files on WordPress.
Calendly – If you're going through the headache of scheduling meeting or client calls, STOP RIGHT NOW, and sign up for a free Calendly account. My clients have scheduled 1000s of meetings over the past five years, and 99% of them have been done through Calendly. That means I didn't have to do it and it was simpler and faster for the person scheduling. Calendly also has a growing list of 3rd party integrations (like Google Calendar) that makes them a great tool. A must have.
Camtasia – I tried to use Adobe Premier, and I failed miserably. I use Camtasia to edit all of my videos and add pre-roll footage and credits before I upload to YouTube for hosting.
Chrome Browser – I access all of my cloud accounts, email tools, and websites via the Chrome browser. And, when I want to see a visitor view of my website, I open up an incognito window. A great tool for testing things.
Cloudflare CDN – I used to use KeyCDN, but they raised their price to a point I wasn't willing to pay. So, I started using Cloudflare. I also use their DNS service as WPEngine doesn't handle that. A CDN makes your website faster by spreading your data around the globe to regionally specific servers. While not a mission-critical piece of software, Cloudflare does provide a lot of value.
Easy Digital Downloads – Easy Digital Downloads is a free plugin for WordPress that allows you to sell digital products over the internet. I sold my first product with EDD, and they've grown with me over the past five years. Though I use other e-commerce plugins on my sites too, I still use and recommend EDD for beginners. This plugin, as the name says, is very easy to use.
Facebook Groups & Messenger – The private community for my coaching and mastermind clients lives on Facebook. We also use Messenger to communicate between meetings. Since everybody is already on Facebook, and statistically they're on it at least once every day, using FB as my community portal was an easy decision. P.S. – Yes, we tried slack, and we didn't love it.
FileZilla – This is a free app for your computer that allows you to get into the back end of your website via FTP. I also use FileZilla to move files between my computer and my NAS. It uses a file system very similar to what you'd find on your computer.
Google Voice – When you start a business, you might not necessarily want the world to have your personal phone number. Or, you might want both your office phone and your cell phone to ring when you get a call. That's where Google Voice and a free Google Voice phone number come in. Plus, with a Google Voice phone number, you can set hours of operation so you're not getting calls at 11 p.m. A must have.
Google's G Suite – While having your email address @yourdomain.com is awesome, it's not always easy to access your inbox. If you're not technical, it can be a real PITA. That's where a $5 G-Suite account could really come in handy. I use the Gmail interface and Google Calendar, but that's it. Plus, Calendly integrates with Calendar, so all of my clients can schedule meetings when it's convenient for them.
Grammarly – If you write anything that's read by someone other than yourself, you need Grammarly. You can read my review of Grammarly here. The free Chrome plugin can check your social media posts, blog posts, and just about everything else you do online. The Premium version does even more. A must have.
Libsyn – I use Libsyn to host my older podcast episodes. I used them before I found ShoutEngine (see below), whom I use exclusively now.
Mailgun – Sometimes, when you get too many things going on at the same time inside of WordPress, there's a conflict with how your emails get sent. A free account with Mailgun and their free plugin for WordPress will fix that. This tool gets pretty technical, but it's a set-it-and-forget-it plugin that makes sure your transactional emails get to the inbox.
MS Outlook, Word, Paint, PowerPoint, OneNote – This group of software is pretty straightforward. I send and receive emails from about seven addresses in Outlook. I write my books like Exit Strategy and Growth Strategy in Word (using the Grammarly Premium add-on). I edit my images in PowerPoint and Paint. And I write my blog posts in OneNote where I also keep hundreds of content ideas, templates, and other things I use all the time.
OptimizePress – Although this software has taken a back seat to some other solutions (like the ones from Thrive Themes, see below), OptimizePress still plays a part in my small business tech stack. For less than $100, you can get a 3-site license and tons of templates for landing pages. Plus, I used OptimizeMember, a free add-on from OptimizePress, to power my membership site for almost two years.
PayPal – The lowest barrier to entry to accept payments online is with PayPal. However, I try to use them as little as possible (I've heard too many horror stories about PayPal keeping your money). Also, most affiliate systems pay commissions via PayPal, so it's still a “must-have” even if you don't use it but to receive affiliate payouts.
PrettyLink Pro – There is both a free version of Pretty Link and a Pro version. I have the Pro version in my tech stack. Pretty Link takes a long link (like an affiliate link) and allows you to make it short and memorable, i.e. “pretty.” For example, ellorywells.com/amazon redirects to a URL that's about 100 characters long. Click here to see how it works.
ShoutEngine – I host multiple podcasts with hundreds of episodes, for free, on ShoutEngine. Since I backup and store all of my original mp3 files on my NAS, if I ever needed to move them to a new podcast host, I could. So far, I have (almost) no complaints.
Smart Podcast Player – Pat's podcast player (say that three times), is great. The support is great, the product is great, I love it. The SPP makes my podcast look better than the player built into WordPress, you can listen at faster speeds, and now I can even collect email addresses with the latest version.
Stripe – A safer, more secure, and a no-horror-story payment processor. Also free, but requires you to have an SSL on your website. There's also a free add-on for WooCommerce that allows you to accept payments through Stripe. A must have.
ThriveCart – The ThriveCart software isn't a WordPress plugin, and it's not something you install on your computer. ThriveCart is a standalone checkout system that allows you to take advantage of an eager buyer's propensity to purchase additional products and services. By using ThriveCart, you could create multiple “upsells” that you'd offer someone buying your product, service, training, etc. With how ThriveCart is currently set up, you wouldn't really want to load it up with hundreds of products, but if you've got, say, less than 20, this would be a good solution. Plus, since they handle the payments, you wouldn't need an SSL installed on your website.
Thrive Landing Pages – I build all of my landing pages with Thrive Landing Pages software. I'll either take one of their templates and modify it, or I'll start from a blank page. This plugin has all but replaced OptimizePress in my tech stack. Using Thrive Architect, you can drag and drop all sorts of things anywhere you want on your landing pages. The Thrive Themes suit of products is a must use!
Thrive Leads – One of the best things about Thrive Leads is the built-in ability to split test forms, colors, layouts… almost everything. Using the split testing feature in Thrive Leads, I was able to test three different layouts with conversion rates of 54%, 47%, and 82%. I love this plugin!
Thrive Themes – Oddly enough, the weakest part of Thrive Themes is their themes. That said, Thrive Theme's themes are pretty solid themes. One thing that makes these themes really great is the integration with Kraken.io for image compression and optimization. It's built right into the theme, so every image you upload to any post or page is automatically compressed to help you get better page load speeds. It's great.
Windows – I'm a Windows guy. Microsoft gets a bad rap sometimes, but, for the most part, Windows is great software. All of the software in my tech stack either works with WordPress or Windows.
WooCommerce – This is another freemium plugin for WordPress that allows you to sell your products online. However, WooCommerce is a little more robust than EDD (see above). Since WordPress's parent company, Automattic, purchased WooCommerce in 2015, their partnership and depth of integration have grown. Now, WC is easier to use than ever before. WC allows you to accept payments via PayPal by default, and with Stripe via a free add-on. If I were starting over today, I'd probably just use WooCommerce.
WordPress – Uh, ya, you probably get it by now. WordPress powers my businesses.
WPForms – The form builder in WordPress is awful. It's hard to edit existing forms, and there isn't just a whole lot to love about it. Enter WPForms. Great support, excellent addons, tons of integrations, and a lot to love. I use WPForms for all of my surveys, questionnaires, and applications. WPForms can also be used as optin boxes. And, I use a WPForm to create users and log people in securely so they can access my training programs and courses.
WP Rocket – There are a lot of caching plugins out there, WP Rocket one is the best. The only one I use and recommend to make your WordPress site faster.
YouTube – I host all of my videos on YouTube. It's free, I can choose whether or not I want to monetize my videos, and I can create unlisted playlists when I want to share private videos. After I upload my videos to YouTube, I grab the URL and paste it into a video element from Thrive Architect.
Zapier – Zapier is “middleware” software that connects two or more other pieces of software. For example, when a new coaching applicant schedules a meeting with me to review their application, they submit their information via a WPForm. That form redirects them to a link to schedule via Calendly. When they book the meeting, that information is sent to Zapier, which then sends the information to ActiveCampaign, which tags them according to what action they took. Said another way, Zapier allows two unrelated applications to talk to each other, and when that automation happens, I save time.
Zoom.us – I use Zoom for all of my coaching and mastermind calls. This software allows me to see the video of the other person, mark and highlight shared screens, and record all of it. There's a free version for calls up to 40 minutes, and the entry-level paid version is just over $100 a year. Zoom is much easier to use than Skype or Google Hangouts, plus it allows you to record with a single click.
How It All Works Together
Although I gave you a good example in the description for Zapier, I'll pull back the curtain a little further. Let me now show you the big picture of how the hardware and software in my tech stack work together to create a robust business infrastructure.
Suzy is an avid listener to podcasts. When she heard my talk with Pat Flynn on Smart Passive Income, she decided to check out my website (built on WordPress and hosted on WPEngine). She heard me mention the Pretty Link at the end of the episode, so she typed it in and was routed to the landing page (designed by Thrive Landing Pages) so she could get the free download (which is stored in my Box cloud).
When Suzy visits the landing page, she sees the optin box (designed and split tested with Thrive Leads) and enters her information to get the resource. After she puts in her name, email and phone number (which is being split tested), she receives a confirmation email (from ActiveCampaign) that asks her to confirm the right address and that she wants emails from me.
After Suzy confirms her information, she's tagged as a listener to SPI (via Thrive Leads) in ActiveCampaign. Now that I know Suzy loves podcasts, I can send her a link (via ActiveCampaign) to check out my episode with John Lee Dumas on Entrepreneur on Fire.
Gina is a seasoned entrepreneur, but she wants to learn the basics of building a website that's hosted on GreenGeeks and built with WordPress. She's also on my email list which is stored in ActiveCampaign.
Because she's on my email list, I can track her activity on my website, and I can add a tag to her account noting that she's visited the landing page (built with Thrive Landing Pages) for 8 Weeks to Exit multiple times.
After sending Gina some targeted emails about the value she'll get if she enrolls in 8 Weeks to Exit, she decides to sign up. When she clicks on the “Enroll Now” button on the landing page, she's taken to ThriveCart to complete her purchase. Before she finishes checking out, I've set ThriveCart to ask her if she wants to spend a little more money (an upsell), and sign up for one of my coaching or mastermind programs so she can get the biggest bang for her buck and have the best chances of success. She says, “no thank you,” and completes her purchase.
Fast forward to the start of the course, and I send Gina an automated email (from ActiveCampaign) with links to the course material (with unlisted videos hosted on YouTube) that are organized with Thrive Apprentice. The next morning, if she hasn't logged in to view the training, I can send her a reminder and ask her if she has any questions. A few days later, I can send her an email reminding her of the weekly call (using Zoom) that is scheduled for that evening and include links to download everything she needs to participate. All of this is automated with ActiveCampaign and was triggered the moment she completed her purchase with ThriveCart.
Using my Dell XPS 15, I'm writing this post in OneNote, and when I'm done, I'll paste it as plain text into a blog post on WordPress. I'll format the post with headings, bullets, etc., and get it ready to publish using Grammarly to proofread it. I'll use Yoast SEO, a free plugin for WordPress, to make sure my SEO efforts get the green light.
I'll also record the audio content using my ATR 2100. I'll record directly into Audacity to edit as I go and to save time. Then I'll export the audio as an mp3 and as a .wav file. The .wav file gets sent to my Home NAS (via FileZilla), and the mp3 gets uploaded to ShoutEngine. The download link from ShoutEngine is then added to my WordPress post so people can use the Smart Podcast Player to listen to it at 1.5x speed if they don't want to read.
After I publish the post (including the https://www.ellorywells.com/techstack Pretty Link) with the audio attached, ActiveCampaign will automatically check my RSS feed and send an email to everyone on my list who has asked me to notify them of new posts or podcast episodes.
All of this, except for recording the audio (which I prefer to do in my office upstairs) was done on my Windows laptop while sipping a beer on my back porch.
If this paints a clear picture of how my tech stack allows me to work from anywhere, please say so in the comments below. If something doesn't make sense, please let me know.